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Mann Ramblings

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About Mann Ramblings

  • Rank
    A Real Mann has Tattoos

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  • Age in Years
    50
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    Male
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    Gay
  • Favorite Genres
    Sci-Fi
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    Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Interests
    Writing, Drawing, Painting, Making Pottery and designing more tattoos for myself. (It's very addicting.)

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  1. Groggy thoughts dipped in sludge clogged Sawyer’s brain. He hadn’t the slightest inkling how he got here, or why his memories were absent. Jimmy had surprised him at the bank, he made it through work, and spent the evening trying to read with no luck, then it all faded out. Blackouts like these usually required a lot of alcohol, yet his stomach was solid and his head didn’t hurt, only dulled. Although, he did feel a little weird. Oddly energized, but somehow sleepy. As if a fine electric current ran through his skin, making him want to involuntarily twitch and nod off at the same time. An unusual sensation. Did he do some designer drug last night and didn’t know it? Because something was different, but when he tried to tune into the source, it flitted out of reach. Sawyer had no idea where he was. Unease held his tongue, keeping him from calling out, afraid of who might call back. The bedroom wasn’t his. Off-white paint cracked and peeled on unfamiliar walls and around the window sill. The furniture was older, reminding him of hand-me-down resale shop bargains. Functional, but nothing pretty. He pulled back the quilt and blanket covering him and found himself wearing clothing he didn’t recognize. Where did this shirt come from? The sleeves reached his fingertips, so he scrunched them down to his wrist, and the sweat pants curling over his heels weren’t much better. If he wasn’t careful, he’d be walking on the cuffs. For no reason he could fathom, Sawyer had the sudden urge to sniff the shirt. Between the woven threads, he discovered traces of the woodsy, gentle musk without cologne associated with a certain attractive biker-type guy Sawyer couldn’t go an hour without thinking of these days. Some of the apprehension of waking in a strange place melted when he realized this had to be Jimmy’s place, but not all. He carefully shifted in bed until his feet could touch the floor, trying hard to be quiet. Everything sounded louder than normal, including the scrape of fabric on fabric. Maybe he was hungover after all. Steadying himself on the mattress, he rose to his feet, prepared to fall. For some reason, he sensed he should be weak and disabled. However, he stood up tall and didn’t waver for a moment. Why would he think that? Old floorboards creaked under his feet as he slipped through the wide open door into a small hallway. Ahead of him was a small linen closet and to the right was a bathroom of white tile and faded wallpaper which stank of bleach. It bothered him enough, he stepped through the open doorway to the left and into a living room filled with mismatched furniture. Without thinking why, Sawyer took an instinctive inhale, to clear the fumes out of his nose, only to find himself immersed in more of the qualities he knew to be Jimmy. His presence filled the house, but hadn’t seeped into its bones. Not a home, more of a place to stay. The mark of a nomadic existence. Before Sawyer could delve deeper into the mystery of Jimmy’s history, a fantastic aroma hooked into him and reeled a growl out of his stomach. He practically floated following the spices taunting him. They drew an inexorable line into a simple kitchen. The pots and pans might have been secondhand, but the food cooking smelled anything but. His back to Sawyer, Jimmy stood in front of the stove, completely engrossed in stirring a simmering stock pot. A loose pair of heather-grey lounging pants slung low on his hips, the thin fabric moulding itself around the firm shape of his lower half. Paired with a steel blue t-shirt stretched across his broad back, the sight was unmistakably Jimmy. A statue of effortless allure and charisma. Seeing Jimmy this way made left Sawyer more comforted than aroused, as if his mere presence calmed an unseen storm inside him. It went a long way to stifle the grey clouds swirling in his cotton-stuffed head. “That smells really good,” Sawyer whispered, because everything was still too loud. Jimmy startled and spun around, nearly losing the spoon in the pot. Weariness saturated every inch of bulk, an invisible yoke around his neck. Red-rimmed eyes of the sleep-deprived opened wide as relief brightened his haunted face. He wasted no time rounding the kitchen table and sweeping Sawyer into his arms. Jimmy clutched him tight, inhaling along his neck while squeezing the air from his lungs. Sawyer didn’t mind. Despite all the confusion, some inner voice responded to the desperate embrace, the heat of Jimmy’s body against him, and told him this was right, this was where he needed to be. Sawyer knew how crazy it sounded. He’d woken in a place he’d never been after a night he couldn’t remember, but being in Jimmy’s here, like this, made him not care. “You’re awake.” Even muffled against Sawyer’s shoulder. Jimmy’s voice rasped with emotional fatigue. He reared back enough to cup Sawyer head in both hands and plastered their lips together, tasting Sawyer like a thankful prayer. A shudder ran under Sawyer’s hands pressed into Jimmy’s back. The man was seconds away from breaking down, yet somehow he held his composure. “I’m okay.” A murmur rolling in the back of his mind said reassuring Jimmy was somehow backwards, but anything leaving the powerful man shaken to his core was a thing to be concerned over. His memory had yet to clear, but this dampened the urgency for answers. He could wait to know. Sawyer leaned back until he looked Jimmy square in the eyes. “Seriously. I’m all right.” With a nod and a brittle smile, Jimmy released him. He opened the fridge and tossed Sawyer a bottle of water. “Drink this. You’re probably dehydrated.” Sawyer cracked the top at once, and the moment cold liquid touched his tongue, he found himself draining half the bottle at once in greedy swallows. “Hey, hey, slow down. There’s plenty more. I don’t want you getting sick.” “Sorry. I didn’t realize how thirsty I was.” “It’s not your fault.” Jimmy brushed his fingers through Sawyer’s hair, an act soothing and piquing the ongoing mystery. “Did something bad happen last night?” Jimmy tried to hide it, but fine creases formed between his eyebrows. “There’s a lot to tell, but I’ll explain everything. I promise. But, let’s get some food in you first. You’ve gotta be pretty hungry.” “Starving, now that you mention it.” As soon as it was said, hunger flared in his gut strong enough to put his worries aside. A deep inhale drew a line to the aromatic pot simmering on the stove. Inside the fragrant stew, he could smell chicken and shrimp and a healthy batch of spices. Every ingredient called out, allowing Sawyer to recognize the entire recipe without tasting. He had to swallow before he drooled on the floor. Or in the pot as he leaned over it. Jimmy took a scoop of rice from a second pot and centered it in a bowl. To serve the stew he had to nudge Sawyer back, who made a weird noise which sounded suspiciously like a growl. Jimmy didn’t seem to mind. He ladled a healthy portion over the rice and walked it to the table. Sawyer nearly tripped over a chair, his gaze fixated on the bowl. Before Sawyer followed through with the urge to dive in face first, Jimmy plunked a spoon into his hand. “Gumbo.” Sawyer tried to play off how amazing the dish was due to being ravenous, but past the craving, he knew champion comfort food. Wow, it was probably better than his mother’s beef stew. Those words would never be uttered aloud in any circumstance. For whatever reason, everything smells better and tasted better today. The bottom of the bowl appeared in record time. Another one of those embarrassing growls came out of Sawyer when Jimmy reached for the bowl. “There’s plenty. I’m getting you more,” he said. The second bowl calmed the hunger pains, but didn’t slow Sawyer down. He was halfway through when he stopped, spoon still in his mouth, as he noticed Jimmy’s rapt stare, looking far too pleased with himself. “What?” Sawyer’s teeth rattled against the spoon, but he wasn’t giving up the mouthful. Jimmy shook his head, tired yet grinning. I like feeding you.” “It’s really good. You should have been cooking for me a long time ago.” Two more spoonfuls bit the dust as he responded without pausing. His mother would be aghast to see Sawyer’s manners vanish over one—make that, two bowls of gumbo that were most certainly not better than her beef stew. Nope. A warm chuckle rose out of Jimmy, a dissonance to his weariness. “I probably should have. This house isn’t supposed to be permanent.” “You’re renting?” “No. More like housesitting for a client so it isn’t sitting vacant.” “Makes sense.” Cocking his head, Jimmy’s focus on Sawyer tightened. “You’re squinting.” “It’s too bright in here.” Jimmy’s enthusiasm dimmed with a nod. “Right. That’ll probably pass.” This time Sawyer didn’t react out loud when Jimmy took the bowl for a third helping, but he fought the urge to defend his food. He couldn’t believe he wanted more. Whatever had gone on last night must have burned more calories than he’d ever managed with his most brutal workouts. He couldn’t imagine what kind of exercise warranted it. His appetite may have been stable, but last night continued to be shrouded from him. At the stove, Jimmy’s back formed a wall as he gathered another serving of rice. “How did I get here?” Sawyer asked. Jimmy’s shoulder went rigid and he stalled, the rice short of entering the bowl.“You had a rough night.” “Did I get drunk or high or something?” The lid closing the pot of rice seemed abnormally loud. “No! No. I wouldn’t have let anything like that happen.” Sawyer breathed a sigh of relief. His sobriety was a badge of honor he wore with great pride. Breaking it and not remembering would have crushed him. “Okay. These are your clothes. What happened to mine?” “They couldn’t be salvaged.” Jimmy’s voice softened as he took his time spooning the gumbo over the rice. Stalling? “Was I sick or something?” “You had a fever. I’ve been watching over you all night.” “Looks like I’m doing fine okay, now.” Jimmy returned to the table and set the filled dish in front of Sawyer, urging him to eat. “Looks like it.” Disquiet colored every inch of Jimmy’s substantial frame and the smell of the food distracted Sawyer again. “Okay, I stil have lots of questions, but that gumbo is calling me name.” Licking his lips, Sawyer prepared to tuck in, but he saw dark stains on his cuffs from his sloppy eating. Yes, he’d set his etiquette to the side for the first two bowls, but he wasn’t an animal. To keep from making more of a mess, he pushed up his sleeves to his elbows, exposing red scars lining his forearms. “What the hell?” “Sawyer, I can explain.” Deep and half-healed, the slashes didn’t bleed but gave a slight ache when he flexed his forearms. When he pulled at his sleeves, they continued. How far did they go? The cuts ran in groups like the marks from a handheld garden rake in fresh soil. Or claw marks… Sawyer jerked upright, flipping his chair and jarring the table. The bowl of gumbo bounced, splashing and crashing to the floor, splintering in wet shards on the linoleum tile. His bare feet slapped with erratic steps as he scrambled out of the kitchen, dashing for the bathroom. He needed to see. Perched over the chipped porcelain sink, the mirrored face of the medicine cabinet shined like a beacon, a door into a world Sawyer wasn’t sure he wanted to be part of. He yanked the collar to one side, exposing more slashes over his shoulder. Air sawed in and out of his lungs at inconsistent speeds. Jimmy appeared behind him. “Sawyer, wait.” He pleaded but didn’t stop him from frantically tugging the shirt over his head. Sawyer’s hands were still bound in the gathered sleeves when he could see himself in the mirror again. It didn’t help. Twisting at the waist made his back’s raked flesh visible. A haphazard lattice of anguish marred it worse than the damage to his arms, accented by the arc of jagged marks wrapping from front to back over shoulder. He stepped closer to his reflection, leaning over the sink. He reached out, stopping his fingertips short of the glass and drawing them into a fist as if the mirror could prevent the marks from being real. Perfect rows of punctures mocked him, the kind made by an animal’s teeth, but the area was too wide, too deep. He winced in pain when he touched the bruised area over his collarbone. “You’re healing fast. It looks much better.” Sawyer knew he meant the comment to be reassuring, but all it did was strike fuel to the kindling. “It was worse than this? How?” The ache from his arms could be felt down his backside and legs, hidden from view. Years of work, perfecting his vanity, one of the few things which had always been his to groom, undone and ruined. A spoiled canvas he didn’t want to look at, but couldn’t tear his eyes away from the spectacle. Tears clouded his vision, but the fog in his head parted, and last night’s events stormed into the present, unrestrained like lightning. Claws. Bite. Jimmy. Agony. Terror. Sawyer believed in the real world and rejected the fantastic. Religion and the paranormal held no sway over him since he’d fought so hard against his own inner demons to give credibility to things he couldn’t see or touch. He was too rational to be a storyteller, and even though his memories shouldn’t be possible, he saw, he smelled, he felt the horrors of the night. They kicked their way into the real world and there was no denying it. “Oh god…” Sawyer stepped backward, away from the mirror and the unraveling of everything he knew, only to collide with Jimmy, the man at the center. He clutched Sawyer’s shoulders with a light touch, obiovusly well aware of the damage. “What do you remember?” Jimmy’s whisper choked and barely made a sound. In rehab, Sawyer had been forced to confront his issues, to say them out loud and take away their power. He’d hated the exercise, because deep down he hid who he was, and never gave it voice, hobbling himself for years in a sham marriage. When he’d finally been shoved out of the closet, he promised he wouldn’t keep secrets from himself. He wouldn’t hide reality and use lies to cloud the truth. It didn’t make it easier. Pushing these first words into the open was harder than admitting Jada had been right a thousand fold. They came out in halting surges laced between trying to contain the sobs. “I was running in the forest like I do all the time. A huge wolf appeared. Cornered me. When I tried to leave, it attacked me. Clawed me up. Used me like a chew toy.” Jimmy dropped his head forward, placing his forehead against the back of Sawyer’s tousled hair. His shuddering breath heated Sawyer’s neck as his hands squeezed. It stung Sawyer’s shoulders but the ache kept him from creating an argument against the proof lining his body as he continued. “Then you showed up.” A stifled sob puffed across Sawyer’s nape. “You turned into a wolf.” This time Sawyer waited for a response, waited to be told he was wrong. Silence only increased the dread. Jimmy finally spoke, his voice coarse and defeated. “Yes.” Oxygen rushed out of his lungs, and the world changed forever. “You killed the other wolf.” Snapping his head up, Jimmy’s reddened eyes red were full of fury as they stared into Sawyer’s through the reflection. “To save you, yes.” “It turned back into a man.” “Yes.” “Werewolves.” Jimmy hesitated. “Yes.” Sawyer stepped forward and scrubbed the salty streaks from his cheeks. The borrowed shirt was still bundled around his arms, so he tucked his head inside and tugged it down his arms and body, until he’d covered himself again. The sight upset him too much to gather his thoughts. And he had many. He turned around and faced Jimmy. The mirror couldn’t shelter him from unpleasant memories anymore. It wasn’t actually a doorway into another world, it could only show him what he didn’t want ot see. “I don’t remember anything else until I woke up in your bed.” No one deserved the ability to be so handsome while simultaneously wrecked, but Jimmy pulled it off effortlessly. Sawyer wanted to angry with him, wanted to blame him, but he recalled Jimmy’s ferocity, the ruthless way he defended him. Jimmy had every right to feel proud of saving Sawyer’s life, but he looked beaten. Crushed. “You fell unconscious. I brought you here and took care of you.” “You didn’t take me to a hospital?” “I couldn’t.” “Why?” “You know why.” Sawyer nodded in agreement, because he knew the answer. People never liked the “other” in their midst. They never had, regardless of which minority showed its face. Things were better but not great. And this was way too new, too outside the norm to trust anyone. It would have been too risky for Jimmy to explain the cuts and slashes to anyone. Sawyer found himself unconsciously tracing his wounds through the shirt with his fingers. “It bit me. Am I going to turn into a wolf?” “Something like that.” A sad keen spilled into the little room, echoing off the tile as Sawyer’s eyes burned and his sight blurred. How was he supposed to handle this? What life lesson prepared a man to become something else? He wrapped his arms around himself and dug his fingers into the chasms he could feel under his sleeves, letting the searing points punish him for whatever sin he’d committed. Jimmy rushed forward and pried Sawyer’s hands away, holding them in his. “Don’t. We’ll get through this.” The determination in Jimmy’s eyes matched the strength he used to keep Sawyer from hurting himself further. A scream built inside Sawyer, and he lurched forward, and smothered it into Jimmy broad chest. Jimmy released his hands and closed his arms around Sawyer, kissing his temple until the howling finally subsided. Gasping and worn out, Sawyer pulled back, dragging his cheek against Jimmy’s until he found his waiting lips. Sawyer pushed for more contact and Jimmy returned his fervor. His solid body served as an anchor, tethering Sawyer, lashing him to a sliver of hope. Clumsy and desperate, they clutched at one another making unspoken promises, because it was all they had in the tiny bathroom with chipped tile. Kisses slowed and heartbeats calmed. The urge to cry and rant became buried under his battered skin. They slowly parted and Sawyer took Jimmy’s hand and led him out of the bathroom and back to the kitchen. If he had any chance to salvage his situation, he’d have to clean up the messes he’d made along the way. He started with the gumbo. God, what a mess. The spatters reached the far wall and Sawyer felt horrible at the waste of something so good. Jimmy grabbed a rag and cleaned up the spill while Sawyer picked up the broken shards, in spite of Jimmy worrying he’d cut himself on the sharp pieces. He didn’t. Once the kitchen had been set to right, Jimmy gathered a fresh serving, only this time he spooned a bowl for himself as well, and they ate together. The revelation of Sawyer’s future hadn’t dulled the gumbo’s awesomeness. Sawyer’s spoon scraped the bottom of the bowl, the noise pulling him back to unanswered thoughts. “Why me?” With a haggard sigh, Jimmy pushed his half-eaten bowl aside. He’d spent more time watching Sawyer eat than helping himself. He stalled for a moment as if deciding how much he should say. “Best answer I have is: you fit the profile. The area pack hired me to hunt down a rogue wolf serial-attacking regular people. I was tracking him and figured out you could be a target. I got lucky I found you when I did.” “How did you know where to find me?” Jimmy dipped his head and stared at the table, painting lazy circles on its surface with his index finger. “I’ve been running with you as a wolf for the last few weeks. Stalker, remember?” Reaching across the table, Sawyer stopped Jimmy’s hand. The nervous movement was frustrating him. “Thank you for saving me. Not the stalking part.” “A lot of that’s my wolf side. He wants to protect you at all costs and dials my instincts up to eleven. Now that you’ve been hurt… maybe higher. I’ll try to keep it under control.” Stress lines crinkled the areas around Jimmy’s eyes as he confessed. Admitting his faults couldn’t be easy for a confident man who always seemed in control except for days he had to have awkward conversations with Sawyer. This was miles beyond awkward, but Sawyer appreciated his efforts even if it didn’t completely calm his nerves. Nothing could do that. “You talked about an area pack. There’s more out there?” “Yes, but I’ve only met the alpha. Wolves need packs. Being alone, being a stray is hard on us. It goes against our nature. This was my petition to joining.” “How long have you been alone?” “Too long.” Still holding Jimmy’s hand, Sawyer gave it a squeeze, sending whatever support he could in his own fragile state. Here he was, bitten by a werewolf—oh man, that sounded so ridiculous when he used those words—and he was more relieved his blackout hadn’t been a break in his sobriety than the fact he was turning into a movie monster. His dubious priorities made him wonder if he’d be needing a straitjacket and padded cell before long, because he was pretty sure he should he drooling on the floor in a fetal position by this point. He could feel every crease in Jimmy’s hand and could almost pick out the ridges of his fingerprints. The dingy kitchen appeared more vibrant than it should regardless of the afternoon light spilling in the window. “This is why everything feels so sharp. So bright.” Jimmy nodded, but his tone lacked any excitement. “You’re changing. Healing. Getting ready for your first shift.” “How much time do I have?” He winced. “Until the next full moon. A few weeks.” For a mysterious stranger with a dark secret, Jimmy’s poker face would leave him penniless. He had yet to stop finding the table fascinating and look up. Being bitten must not have been anything to celebrate. Jimmy’s replies had been cryptic and vague—a sign of something dangerous lurking around the corner. One more needle into Sawyer’s worries, keeping them constantly in front. “Will you help me?” Sawyer hated sounding so feeble and needy, but he wasn’t standing on firm ground. Jimmy’s head snapped up and his eyes flashed amber for a split second. “I’m not going anywhere.” A simple declaration, but it went a long ways to settling Sawyer’s apprehension since he suspected it came from both Jimmy and his wolf. He wondered how often that might happen. “Good. I’m going to have lots of questions.” “I’ll answer what I can. While we figure this out, I’m going to be watching over you. Closer than before. My wolf—I need to know you’re safe.” “Stalker. Got it. Right now, I’m okay with that.” Jimmy’s eyes watered but no tear fell. “I’m so sorry. I didn’t want this for you.” “Me either. Is this how you became a wolf?” “No. I was born like this.” Clearing his throat, Jimmy rubbed the back of his hand across his eyes. “I think I would have preferred that route.” He let out a sad chuckle. “Me too.” Not much more was said. The pervading sense of uncertain future hung over them and Sawyer was too busy processing what he’d learned so far to ask for more information. Stress stifled his appetite and even Jimmy only ate one bowl before they declared the meal finished. They put away the remaining gumbo—despite the amount already eaten, there was a fair amount to store because Jimmy said he didn’t know how to cook for small groups. They washed the dishes together, Sawyer drying and placing them in the cupboards where Jimmy told him. The furnishings came with the place, provided by the local pack alpha. Sawyer didn’t know what to think of that. Despite the unbelievable circumstances, the whole scene felt strangely domestic. Sawyer closed the cabinet to find Jimmy wavering. The man hadn’t likely slept all night watching over him. When Sawyer took his hand, Jimmy’s weary gaze focused on how their fingers intertwined. “Come on. You’re about to fall out. Time for a nap.” The barest tug had Jimmy following Sawyer out of the kitchen. “I have an errand to run tonight. Put this to rest.” “I won’t let you oversleep.” Weaving his way back to the bedroom, he towed Jimmy with no resistance. The covers were still pulled back and Jimmy climbed in when prompted. Before Sawyer could cover him with the blankets, Jimmy reached out and clasped Sawyer’s wrist. “Need you close. Please.” Sawyer checked to make sure his borrowed shirt continued to cover his wounds and climbed in next to Jimmy. At once, Jimmy pulled Sawyer close like a favorite stuffed animal, burying his face in the crook of his neck and inhaling deep over and over. The comforting heat of Jimmy’s body blanketing him tied into the woodsy, gentle musk without cologne. His wounds burned at the pressure, but not enough to to ask him to move. It wasn’t how Sawyer pictured their first time in bed together, but it wasn’t horrible. Not at all. He should have let Jimmy drift away, but a few nagging thoughts refused to be silent. “Who was he? What did you call him? The rogue?” Jimmy didn’t raise his head, talking into Sawyer’s neck with a rumbling voice softening by the second. “Don’t know. Just he was part of the local pack.” “Did he go after me to get to you?” Sawyer stroked Jimmy’s head enjoying the wild locks between his fingers. “Don’t think so. You look similar to other victims. Alpha said a number of the pack use your bank.” “I don’t need to know that.” The thought multiple werewolves had been his customers over the years wasn’t easing his nerves. Thankfully, Jimmy was doing a pretty good impression of a weighted blanket and it was working. “It’s okay. None of them really know me, and there’s no reason anyone knows your my mate.” Sawyer’s hand stilled in Jimmy’s hair. “Your what?” Jimmy shifted, drawing Sawyer deeper into his embrace sounding all too groggy and pleased with himself. “My mate.” “Don’t explain. I think I can figure that out for myself better than other part of this crazy nonsense.” Hands flexing, Jimmy gripped and released Sawyer’s shirt, showcasing the frustration he didn’t have the energy to explain. “This isn’t how I wanted you to find out.” “Would you have told me if this hadn’t happened?” The barest nod brushed into Sawyer’s neck. “Planned to before we could get more serious.” Sawyer laughed, trying to keep his volume low. “More serious?” “My wolf would have bent you over and taken you the day we met at the bank. I want you so bad, but I have to take it slow. Make sure you’re the right one. Once a wolf mate-bonds, we’re all in. There’s no going back. Until then, we both have a choice. I wouldn’t take yours from you.” The more Jimmy spoke, the more his words slurred, and the further he floated out of wakefulness. Sawyer almost felt guilty slowing his journey into sleep, but the moment was oddly special in spite of the tension hanging over them both. Honest and intimate, it made Sawyer feel safe, and reinforced his trust in Jimmy. He never wanted it to end. “I believe you. You’d let me choose, but you’d influence me every step of the way, wouldn’t you?” “Did it work?” Jimmy’s breathing leveled out as he let go of the world and his body became a dead weight. It was the first time he’d seen Jimmy at peace all afternoon. The fierce protector slept like an angel. Sawyer shuddered as he dropped a kiss to Jimmy’s head. “Yes.”
  2. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 21

    this chapter and the next were very difficult to get down. Certain things had to be included for the future and lay the groundwork for the next act. My goal is to catch more of the typos going from here so it doesn't distract from reading. I've already fixed a few I caught after posting. Messier than usual. Eek.
  3. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 21

    Just for that, the story will only become more convoluted without hope of satisfying conclusion. Everyone! Thank Carlos!
  4. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 21

    I agree. Fergus needs to stop being a little bitch.
  5. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 21

    **Gasp** Torturing characters? Moi?
  6. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 21

    Sawyer could use some good luck right about now. Keep your fingers crossed.
  7. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 21

    Fergus is too much of a top to suck... Oh... I see where you were going with that...
  8. The transgressor’s blood dripped between his teeth, an unsavory yet necessary tang in his mouth. “I’m sorry, Jimmy,” Sawyer-mate said. His eyes drifted closed and his body relaxed. The wolf whined, unsure. Saving the Sawyer-mate meant everything, but one sniff confirmed the hurt-oozing was as bad as it looked. Nudging him snout to snout didn’t wake him. Not gone, but not here. Frustration ripped a howl from deep within as a warning to any who might be near. Behind his wolf’s eyes, Jimmy watched helplessly, more coherent within the wolf than ever before. Their pronounced division worried him. They weren’t working as one for the same goal. He pleaded to be in charge, but the wolf bombarded him with its unhappiness. So many years had passed, and still they ran alone without pack. Grief, the wolf understood, but not wallowing in it to the point of ignoring their needs. Jimmy could read the Sawyer-mate gave them hints of completion, and how he faded before their eyes. All the wolf knew was they’d defended their mate from evil and now he lay broken in wound-sleep and he had no idea how to bring him back. The wolf’s confusion and rage built a wall Jimmy pounded against, trying to come back into the world. The wolf refused, blaming Jimmy for everything. Its distrust a palpable force. He’s too fragile. He has no fur to warm him. The wolf crawled in close and lay against their fallen mate. Sawyer didn’t react to the new weight against him. So much blood coated the tattered rags covering his body. They wanted to cover him, make him warmer, but there were so many injuries they didn’t want to make worse. Breathing wet and shallow, Sawyer started to shiver. It’s not enough! Let me out! I know how to help him! If Jimmy could cry buried underneath the wolf’s skin, he would wail. Instead the wolf howled and whimpered. Before Jimmy’s guidance could give him direction, but it refused to listen. Sawyer plight consumed him, and Jimmy’s voice was of no interest. You have to let me save him. The wolf continued to ignore Jimmy. I’m saving our mate whether you like it or not! Unwilling to submit, his wolf fought every step of the way, but Jimmy’s determination held strong. He would not be trapped under the wolf’s skin for days again and risk their mate dying. Like natural wolves, his was a being of instinct and pure emotion. It felt the world and reacted without discussion. He loved his wolf for its unerring connection to Sawyer, but its lack of rational thought could undermine their intentions. It’s why they were bound to their human side, to find their balance. For all his wolf’s strength and devotion, Jimmy needed two legs to ensure Sawyer’s survival, not four. And that argument was non-negotiable. His wolf clawed and railed against his efforts, but he demanded control and forced his animal side down. STOP FIGHTING ME! If you let me out, I will do what we both need. I will pack bond. Our mate will live, but you have to let me out. I promise. Eyes bright and fury sharp, the wolf stopped resisting. Promises were sacred to Jimmy, and if he broke this one, the wolf would stuff into the deepest corners of their bond and leave him behind in the dark. To make its point, the wolf didn’t make the change easy. This shift was more painful than any he’d even experienced. It happened hard and fast, moonfire searing his flesh and soul, a penance for mistakes made and the signing of the pact to fulfill the wolf’s neglected needs. Hissing through clenched teeth, Jimmy dug trenches in the dirt with his fingers, waiting for his skin to stop rippling. When it was finally done, he collapsed, tasting the underbrush and soil as he gasped for air. His whole body shook as he struggled to get an arm under himself to push up into a crouch. Wounds from the fight has been reduced to multitudes of fresh scars, and they burned under the surface. Healing would come from time and more shifts, but there wasn’t time or energy to squander now. The weakness retreated, but Jimmy knew he’d suffer for this last change for days. As soon as he was strong enough to crawl he returned to Sawyer having rolled away while the wolf had sculpted him back into human form. His eyes watered at the sight. So much cuts and slashes, Sawyer was slathered in blood, some not his own. He cradled Sawyer cheek, taking care to disturb him as little as possible. “Sawyer, can you hear me?” The skin under Jimmy’s palm grew hot and Sawyer’s shivers rolled into full blown seizing. Jimmy’s gaze flashed to the sordid row of teeth marks in Sawyer’s shoulder. The ones which had stopped bleeding. “No no no no no…” Tears steamed off Jimmy face in the chill as he scooped Sawyer into his arms, trying not to notice the sticky wetness coating his back. Any internal damage he might have had didn’t matter now. The bite had passed its magic along. “I got you. I’ll take care of you, I swear.” Adrenaline gave him new power and Jimmy ran with Sawyer in his arms, following the path back to his truck. He ran possessed, barely seeing the trees, but knowing the way. His cargo was too precious to leave to chance. Thankfully, he scented no one near when they cleared the tree line, only a few yards from his truck. He’d parked down the road from Sawyer’s home, not far from where he would enter the forest for his run, but not close enough Sawyer might have seen him if he’d come out on his own. No chance of that now. The rogue’s scent had hit him in the face the moment he got out of the truck. His wolf went mad. He grabbed his gun and tracked it as fast as he could. If only he’d been quicker. He raced to his truck and tore open the door for access to his rabid hunting gear. Pushing the empty rifle case aside, he pulled out a set of spare clothing and a warming blanket he’d stocked since the last time he’d been stuck for days as a wolf. He unwrapped the warming blanket and cocooned Sawyer with it in the front seat. He may have been feverish, but staying warm would be critical. Bitten humans didn’t always survive, and Jimmy didn’t know if it would be a mercy or not. Shaking the thought out of his head, he pulled on the spare pair of jeans and t-shirt, wishing he could wash himself first. The clamminess of drying sweat and blood had yet to pass. He checked on Sawyer again, noticing how the cuts he could see weren’t seeping anymore. The bite worked quickly once it spread. Shivers still wracked his body, but he was seized anymore, so Jimmy took a chance. He grabbed the spare keys and locked Sawyer inside after he pulled a tarp and twine out of his kit. His wolf growled as he ran back into the woods, but it knew they couldn’t leave the rogue behind. Their kind would be at risk, including the pack they needed so badly. The last thing anyone needed was someone to stumble across a man they’d practically decapitated or wandering animals searching for a meal to use him as a source. The moon should have removed her gift at his death, but he couldn’t take the chance. Normally, he would bury a rabid, but this wasn’t a victim. This was the villain. Both he and his wolf broke into uncontrollable snarls at the scent of Sawyer’s blood coating the area. Pure satisfaction sang through their bond at the sight of the rogue’s carcass. Like Jimmy, his wolf wasn’t a mindless killer, but if dragged into a fight, he intended to win at all costs. If circumstances were different, he would leave the bastard to rot, but he had a job to do. He had promises to keep. The threat was over and Fergus would need the proof. Once that promise was done, he would be in a position to join the pack and satisfy another. But the situation being what it was, he unfurled the tarp and bundled the dead none too gently using the twine. When he was sure the body had been secured, he threw it over his shoulder, gathered his rifle, and ran full speed back to the truck. He dumped the mummified rogue into the bed with an ungraceful slam. The need for being gentle had long since passed. He slid the cover into place and locked it up, hiding the dead from prying eyes. Once back inside the driver’s seat, he leaned across and petted his unconscious mate. “You still with me? I’m right here.” Sawyer continued to tremble and his face was heated. Jimmy had never been present after a human had been bitten. Only his papa’s stories of the moon and the wolf and how they came to be could guide him now. They needed someplace safe to rest, so Sawyer could settle before they decided what would come next. A ridiculous idea. He knew what would come next. Sawyer had been given the moon’s gift in the most proscribed way, and she rarely gave lenience. At least, Jimmy had never known it to happen, because turning humans always ended poorly from what he’d been told and seen. In the end, it didn’t matter. He’d promised to save their mate, and he wasn’t about to debate between good and bad choices now. Sawyer’s life teetered. They were so close to Sawyer’s home, which would be Jimmy’s first choice of a comfortable place, but Jada could be there and he wouldn’t be able to answer her questions. She’d likely see Sawyer’s condition and demand to take him to the hospital and Jimmy couldn’t allow him to be under a human microscope under any circumstances. Greater risks than his mate’s survival had to be considered even if Jimmy wanted to piss on them all. There were other safe places to take him. Starting the engine, Jimmy put the truck in gear and drove to his own place where he could care for his mate in total privacy. He chose the off-roads to the expediency of the highway to keep them under the radar. If they were pulled over by an eager sherriff, he’d never be able to explain Sawyer’s condition. Or his own, to be honest. Few cars passed his way as he sped along, every sense dialed up high to see into the night. It also allowed him to hear Sawyer’s heartbeat, and confirmed he still breathed as they made each backwoods turn through town. The entire ride he kept one hand on Sawyer’s slumbering form. “Stay with me, Sawyer. It’s not far now.” The cabin Fergus put him in had never felt like home, but he’d never been so happy to see it appear in the distance, although it couldn’t stave off the constant buzz of panic keeping him wide awake. Rocks spit out from under the tires as he braked hard and swerved into the driveway. He barely remembered parking, shutting off the truck, or racing around to the other side and opening Sawyer’s door. He lifted Sawyer out of the seat with the lightest touch he could mange and held him close. “We’re here at my place. I’m going to take care of you now.” The shivers had abated, but Sawyer didn’t respond, even when Jimmy shifted him to free a hand to open the door and turn on lights. Being able to see Sawyer in proper light nearly enraged his wolf once more, and Jimmy wouldn’t blame him. Their mate had been flayed alive. The only thing keeping his wolf in line was him carrying Sawyer in his arms, and the wolf wouldn’t risk him any further harm. The mix of blood, dirt, and other scents soaking into Sawyer made Jimmy head straight to the bathroom. He couldn’t tend to him in this condition. Without setting Sawyer down, he started the shower, letting the steam rise before he tempered it. While the room warmed, he tore apart his spare clothing so he wouldn’t have to let go of his mate and dumped the remnants on the tile floor. He left what was left of Sawyer’s clothes on him, too caked in blood to remove safely. Arms around Sawyer’s torso, Jimmy held him upright against his body, furious over losing the thrill of being skin-to-skin with his mate for the first time. “This isn’t what I wanted for us. I’ll make it up to you. I promise.” Hopefully, he could keep this promise too. Jimmy carried them in, keeping his back to the shower head to protect Sawyer’s wounds. The overspray dotted the tiles in shades of abattoir red. Water sliding down their bodies turned to instant rust, washing down the foulness. Trying not to weep, he took his time gently stroking, letting Sawyer’s natural skintone emerge from underneath the grunge. Slowly he soaked Sawyer’s clothing until they fell off of their own accord, in ruined clumps. Angry slashes marred every inch of Sawyer, especially his back, yet every cut was sealed and no longer seeping blood. The bite knitted him back together, making him stronger to hold the gift. Jimmy prayed it was a sign he would survive the night. Unfortunately, even if Sawyer healed fully, he would always bear the rogue’s bite scar. Not Jimmy’s. It was enough to make him want to dismember the corpse and burn the pieces in separate cities. Keeping to his task at hand held his anger in check, but just barely. Once the water ran clear again, Jimmy picked up the soap bar and carefully washed Sawyer until he was confident his man was as clear of the night’s evidence as possible. Sawyer’s eyes never opened once and Jimmy couldn’t be sure if he should be happy or not. There was plenty to be grateful not to witness. Giving them both a final scrubbing to be sure, Jimmy shut off the water and carried Sawyer out. He dried his mate carefully, pleased no blood stains came off him in the process. Satisfied, Jimmy put an arm under Sawyer’s legs and lifted him, cradling him against his chest once more. He dropped a soft kiss to the top of Sawyer’s damp hair. “I’ll protect you. I swear. Just stay with me.” He choked and caught his breath. “Please.” The house was small, so the trip to the bedroom was short. Still covered in bath towels, Jimmy laid Sawyer on the bed. Bitter tears simmered in his eyes. Another first stolen from them. They were planning their first night together. Sawyer made his intentions clear at the bank. Having Sawyer in his bed should have been nights and days filled with hedonistic joy. Becoming one and bonding until they left their mark in every room, not this helpless nursemaiding. Jimmy was a hunter, a warrior. He saved his mate from the enemy, but now he faltered on what came next. All his skills had neen reduced to nothing. The best he could do was make Sawyer comfortable and pray he woke in the morning. It’s all the hope he had to cling to. Pulling open the dresser, he collected a long-sleeved henley and a pair of sweat pants. They would be too big on Sawyer, but they would help keep him warm and cover his injuries. He dressed Sawyer as modestly as he could, believing Sawyer would prefer not to feel ogled under his care. Doing so also kept him from staring at the healing claw marks. The rogue was beyond any opportunity of additional vengeance. The dead don’t scream, after all. Jimmy arranged Sawyer un der the covers. He brushed his hair back from his forehead and planted another kiss there, willing his thoughts into Sawyer’s sleepy mind. “You need to wake up for me. I don’t know how I’ll survive without you.” His wolf whined in agreement. Without getting dressed, Jimmy turned off the light and walked out of the room. He collected his ruined spare clothing and the stained shreds of Sawyer’s after ringing out the excess water and rinsing the bathtub. Out the back door he gathered some scraps of dry wood from the pile near the door and the bottle of lighter fluid and matches. He dropped the kindling into the steel barrel behind the house and soaked it with fluid. He struck a match and lit the fire. Gathering more wood he stoked the flames until the back yard had a halo of summer surrounding it. One by one, the soiled clothing went into the blaze. The warming blanket would go next. He could clean his truck and the bathroom in the morning. Calling Fergus could wait. There were more important things to tend to now. With the job done, he had time to decide how to handfe the rest. Riotous licks of orange and yellow destroyed the evidence of three men’s blood and the scent which still burned inside Jimmy’s nostrils never to be forgotten. He stood close enough to feel the heat singe his battered skin. Lights flickered against the side of the house, cast shadows which haunted him. The cellar doors were closed and locked and he had every intention of keeping them that way. When he first caught Sawyer’s sweet, enticing scent, he never once imagined he would drag him into this level of hell. He wouldn’t have believed their lives would take such a turn. Sawyer didn’t deserve any of it, and now it was too late. Their feet were firmly sunk into the earth of a place no one ever walks away from. Somehow, this was Jimmy’s fault. He’d never given any thought to how Sawyer would fit into his life. He hadn’t planned to bite him, but he hadn’t given a shred of thought to whether he would be ready to watch Sawyer grow old and die long before him. All he did was follow his and his wolf’s desires, even if he took far too long to begin. Now, Sawyer was in his world deeper than he ever expected or wanted. What was he going to do now? Jimmy strained his hearing over the fire and past the house’s walls. Sawyer’s pulse and breathing hadn’t changed. Until he woke, Jimmy doubted he could sleep no matter how exhausted he was. It was going to be a long night. “Please let him wake up,” he whispered.
  9. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 20

    I probably shouldn't say anything about next week's funeral scene, should I? 😮
  10. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 20

    It's a major plot point that needed to be huge. It sounds like I hit the intended note.
  11. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 20

    It's no spoiler to remind that so far, all the humans bitten we've seen turned into rabids—wild monsters stuck somewhere between human and wolf.
  12. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 20

    I've been looking forward to getting to this chapter and the complications it brings to the story. It all gets really interesting from here as far as I'm concerned.
  13. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 20

    If Sawyer survives, I'll send you his email address so you can pass him all the stories links you want. The next chapter you'll have to wait for like everyone else.
  14. Mann Ramblings

    Chapter 20

    I think Jimmy was following the clues of his investigation and likely doesn't know the identity of the rogue. He knows no one in Fergus's clan other than Fergus himself. That had been part of the difficulty of the hunt.
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